Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Playing and Ripping SACDs with your PC

Note: I started writing this post back in August of 2012. I just never got around to publishing it at the time. I start by providing a little background information and end with what I think is the latest and best method. However, I haven't checked for newer versions or methods for well over a year, so there might be better methods out there. Please leave a comment if you know if there's a better method.

I've wanted to rip and play SACDs with my computer for a long time. Since I didn't own a dedicated SACD or even universal CD/DVD/SACD player, I hadn't been able to play a SACD disc until recently. As far as I know, the sound quality from a SACD is very similar to DVD-Audio, but there seems to be a lot more content available on SACD, so the ability to play the tracks from a SACD disc became one of my goals. Since I store my music on my media server and stream it via several PCs attached to my home network, I prefer to rip all my content off the discs. I don't want to purchase another piece of hardware and add to the chain of equipment to play another format. Maybe this is another sign that I'm getting old. When I was a teen, I thought having a rack of hardware with lots of flashing LEDs was pretty cool, not so much now. Besides, I think more components added to a very good audio system can compromise the overall sound quality.

A few years ago (I don't know the exact time frame or dates) some very technically savvy people started working on ripping SACDs. Unlike ripping normal DVDs and CDs, this seemed impossible. You couldn't purchase a SACD drive for your PC and even though it turns out a SACD drive is really a DVD drive with different firmware that allows it to read the DSD data format, you couldn't just replace the DVD's firmware to make it work with SACDs. The best you could do was record the analog audio output from a SACD player into your computer using a soundcard with analog inputs. With a high quality professional soundcard or audio interface, you could get pretty good results. So someone with a multichannel device with decent ADCs (analog-to-digital converter) could connect the analog inputs of their multichannel interface to the analog outputs of their SACD player. The resulting 24-bit/96KHz or higher resolution tracks sounded pretty good. In my opinion, these were a step above a meticulously ripped vinyl recording. However, they still needed an analog-to-digital conversion step. And depending on your SACD player, they might already have gone through another conversion step from DSD to PCM. If they used a mediocre SACD player, the results were not so great, so you also needed a pretty high end player.

Maybe I should back up a bit and try to explain the difference between DSD and PCM. Forget it... that's not important here. If you want to know more about this, just read the Wikipedia article. This article also includes links to Sony technical documents and other FAQs.

Even though the analog rips of the SACD were pretty good, these technically savvy folks continued working on ways to digitally rip their SACDs. Their goal was to generate a track without going through the analog-to-digital step. Sometime around the middle to end of 2009, a person with the pseudonym "HiResOrNothing" explained how they developed their new "standard" for SACD ripping:

"We can now capture a pure 24-bit PCM digital signal which is converted directly from the pure DSD stream from the disc - and this is achieved by using a special "modified" SACD player. These modified players have been around ever since the SACD format has, but they have always been extremely expensive (like, try a $2000 Denon player which you have to order from Switzerland). But things have progressed and a few companies are offering a modified version of the famous Oppo DV-980H player, which is well known for its affordability yet uncompromised quality - especially with regards to digital SACD output!"
"I have purchased such a player. The Oppo offers pure DSD output over HDMI 1.2 and  it also gives the option for PCM output. The Oppo internally converts the DSD to PCM at 24-bit/88.2kHz and the "mod" captures this PCM signal and outputs it through three stereo S/PDIF (coaxial) jacks. To capture this glorious digital signal, I am using three M-Audio Delta 1010LT sound cards simultaneously. They each have a single stereo coaxial input, so in order to record all six channels simultaneously, three cards must be used. I'm using Adobe Audition 1.5 in multitrack mode to simultaneously record the 6 channels in real time, then I map the channels with Audition's "multichannel encoder", and export the individual mono wav channels. After that I split the album into the tracks and encode it to MLP with surcode, and author it to DVD-A with Discwelder Chrome. No editing of the audio signal is made in Adobe Audition, this is a straight digital capture of the signal and as close as you can get to copying a SACD disc-to-disc at the present time."
So if you come across a SACD rip and find it offered as 24-bit/96KHz tracks, there's a good chance it's an analog rip. If you find 24-bit/88.2KHz tracks, it's probably a digital rip. Maybe some of the commercial high resolution download sites, like HDTracks, are using a similar digital rip technique for some of their 24-bit/88.2KHz offerings. I think I've seen some 88.2KHz tracks there.

The next goal was to figure out a way to rip and play back the DSD format files. This would be the ideal method for listening to your SACD generated files on your computer or home network. However, to get the full benefits, you'd need a DSD capable DAC and a software player that can handle the DSD format. Most DACs (and as mentioned earlier in this post, many universal/SACD players), mine included, that say they are DSD capable actually convert the DSD to PCM internally before outputting the analog signal. Some, like the ESS Sabre32 DACs, I believe can convert to analog without the intermediate PCM step. When you listen to one of these DACs, you're listening to the DSD format. I personally don't have very much experience with this because I don't have a ESS Sabre32 DAC, so I don't know how different the pure DSD sounds compared to the sound of PCM after converted from DSD. Here's a post with an opinion on this subject. Fortunately, my favorite software player, J.River Media Center, can handle the DSD format, so I'm all set there.

Moving forward, early 2012, someone finally figured out how to rip and save the DSD formated file from a SACD and published "Ted's SACD Ripping (and PCM Conversion - optional) Primer - Version 2.0.4." I think the latest version of this primer is 2.3.2, but I can't find it anywhere. Maybe ask Ted, whoever he is. This method describes basically a two step process. First, you use a Sony PS3 to save a disc copy of the SACD to an ISO file. Second, after copying the ISO file to your computer, you use a program to extract the DSD from the ISO and save each track as DSF files.

The first part only works with a Sony PS3 that can play SACD discs. Before you can do anything, the firmware has to be hacked to support ripping. This will only work if the PS3 player has the firmware 3.55 or older. Apparently, there are only 4 PS3 models with this capability. If you can find one of these (good luck), then you have to hack the player. Hacking the firmware involves installing a revised version of the firmware. Once the new revised firmware is running, you can install the SACD ripping software. Once you have a hacked PS3 with the SACD ripping software installed, you can start ripping your SACD collection. Older versions of the ripping program could extract individual files or an ISO disc image. Because of slow ripping speeds and to avoid wear and tear on the PS3's optical drive, they recommend extracting the full ISO image and thus newer versions of the ripping software only supports ISO extraction. To rip a SACD disc, you use your game controller to navigate to the games section of your PS3 menu, then pick "Unknown" and then "SACD-ripper". Next, you insert your SACD into the PS3's optical drive and a USB thumb drive, with enough storage space, into one of the USB ports. After picking "OK" ("X" button), it will start ripping and eventually store the ISO file on your thumb drive. Personally, I've never done this, because I don't own a PS3 player. However, I was lucky to find a friend who owned one and was willing to run the hack. Now I buy the SACD discs and send them to him and he creates the ISO files for me. For ISO files smaller than 2 GB, he can transfer them over the Internet using a service called We Transfer. If it's larger, which it usually is, he'll burn it to a DVD-R disc and send it in the mail. I wish I could find a compatible PS3 player, but they are almost impossible to find. Maybe more will show up on eBay now that the PS4 is shipping.

The second part involves running another SACD extraction program on your PC. First, you have to install 'sacd_extract.exe' on your computer. Here are the steps I follow to extract the DSF files for each track:

  1. Copy the ISO from my thumb drive (or DVD-R) to the same folder where sacd_extract.exe is located on my PC, which I'll call the rip folder.
  2.  navigate to the rip folder and SHIFT-right click on the folder and select "open command window here."
  3. at the command prompt, type "sacd_extract" (without the quotes), followed by the arguments you want to apply to the output files. 
The command format is: sacd_extract [options] [sourcefile]. I always generate DSF files and depending on the SACD, I can generate stereo and/or multichannel surround files, if they exist. For example, I have Bob Dylan's 'Blood on the Tracks' SACD, which has both stereo and multichannel surround tracks. Assume the ISO from the PS3 rip is 'BloodontheTracks.iso'. To extract the stereo tracks, I typed:

sacd_extract -2 -s -c -i"BloodontheTracks.iso"

if I want the multichannel surround tracks, I type:

sacd_extract -m -s -c -i"BloodontheTracks.iso"

These will create a new folder named 'Bob Dylan - Blood On The Tracks' with each individual track in the format 'tracknumber - trackname.dsf' (for the first track, this would be "01 - Tangled Up in Blue.dsf"). It will create exactly the same names for both the stereo and multichannel, so if I want both, I will rename the folder to something else to avoid overwriting the stereo with the multichannel tracks. Then I move the folders to my networked server and add it to my music library using JRMC v19 (J.River Media Center). I chose DSF files because they can be tagged with metadata. So when I add them to my library, I make sure all the tags are correct.


That's it!! Now I can enjoy listening to my SACDs using my computers and my media server. Again, I don't have a DSD capable DAC, so even though JRMC19 can handle the DSF file format, it automatically converts to PCM before it is sent to my DAC. So I'm still not listening to the pure DSD format, but it still sounds really good. And when or if I ever get a DSD capable DAC, I have these in the correct format and I'll be able to listen to them without the PCM conversion.

10 comments:

  1. You can skip the second part and play straight from the ripped iso file with Foobar2000 if you install the foobar200 SACD decoder: http://sourceforge.net/projects/sacddecoder/.
    This decodes to either PCM 24/88.6 or DSD64 which can be chosen with an option in the settings. The DSD option being if your DAC supports DSD.
    I have tried this with multiple ripped SACD iso(s) and it works very very well.

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    1. Thanks for the tip. I still like to tag my files with metadata and use the info in JRMC19 for playlists. I don't think you can do that if you leave the album in iso format.

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    2. Just tried it with a Queen II ISO, all the metadata seems to be present and editable.
      Can also add a specific song from the ISO to a playlist and call upon that individual song from the playlist later with no issues. Guess it pulls it from the ISO when requested, quite cool.
      Can keep the file in ISO format and all seems fine.

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  2. Oops my mistake, am unable to edit the metadata currently on the ISO.

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  3. I was just going through all of this earlier as a friend of mine obtained some .iso files and didn't know how to split them...

    I bumped into Ted

    http://www.computeraudiophile.com/f11-software/help-help-extract-sacd-iso-20114/

    and decided to side step the command line routine and do the below

    http://www.audiocircle.com/index.php?topic=122957.0

    http://www.rendu.sonore.us/software.html

    Enjoy!!!!!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the links. I'll give the ISO to DFF/DSF program a try. If looks like an easier method than the command line. I like a nice ui, thanks for sharing your tip!

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  4. Hello,

    I used to listen to dsd files converted to pcm with Weiss Saracon, or with the foobar SACD plug-in, but I recently purchased a DSD capable DAC (Ami Musik DS5). It is worth it ! Compared to the pcm converted files, the dsd files played natively are much livelier and sound less thin than PCM. If you can upgrade your DAC, go ahead it is worth the upgrade :)

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  5. I've been looking for a drive that can read sacds and i've found this one in amazon http://www.amazon.com/Black-External-CD-ROM-Burner-Optical/dp/B00GN6YVJQ/ref=sr_1_cc_1?s=aps&ie=UTF8&qid=1408159771&sr=1-1-catcorr&keywords=external+sacd+drive The seller claims it can play SACD. Do you think it is possible? i will continue my research about that.

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    1. I doubt it very much, but for $38 you can give it a try and report back to us. I see the description lists "hybrid SACD" whatever that means. If it can play SACD, it should be possible to rip SACD with this drive. Lots of people are trying to buy PS3s that can be used for ripping SACDs and they are pretty hard to find. If this could be used instead this would be a pretty big deal.

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  6. I suspect that "hybrid" means that it will play the CD component of a dual CD/SACD disk.

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